Visualization_Summer_13

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Unformatted text preview: images to communicate these ideas to students, some of whom at first regarded discourse theory as strange, abstract, and too academic. Even though this paper draws heavily on semiotics of Saussure and Peirce (Noth 1995; Cobley 1996), and ideas of Foucault (Rabinow 1984), Derrida (1978), Lyotard (****), Deleuze, and Guattari (****) I will make only passing references to these authors; the paper is primarily meant for undergraduates and teachers who incorporate discourse theory in their undergraduate teaching. Although I conclude the paper by drawing on the study of poverty as an example to illustrate the power of discourse theory, for the most part the paper is an exercise in the visualization of a few foundational ideas of discourse theory—ideas that I have taught to undergraduates with great success for twenty years. 1. Three Semiotic Principles of Discourse Theory Discursive selection When we speak about objects represented by words such as “body” or “chair” the words can never capture the entirety of the object because every object in the world possesses an infinite 3 number of attributes. The process of discursive selection works in two stages: first we select a single attribute from the infinity; second we scale the attribute through an appropriate measure. For example, a human body presents itself to us as a single, tangible, bounded, objective unit of reality. But a human body has innumerable aspects such as physiology, personality, sexuality, medical history, identity characteristics, and so on. Furthermore, within each of these is another endless list of metric and non‐metric attributes. For a doctor, a body is a site of disease, injury, and healing. For a biologist, a human body is a site of cellular processes. To a soldier a human body is a target and a threat, to a census taker a statistic, to a lover a site of pleasure, and so on, ad infinitum. So what exactly is the scientific definition of a human body? Every description of a body is by necessity a partial description...
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